Over the last few weeks, I've been involved in quite a few online discussions about creating low-cost PCB prototypes. Most of these conversations have involved sending one's design files to a manufacturer that specializes in small, affordable runs, but what if you could create your own PCBs using a small desktop printer?
Well, my colleague, Janine Love, just pointed me at a really interesting Kickstarter project for the E1 Desktop PCB Printer. This little rascal is essentially an inkjet printer with two cartridges. Instead of ink, these cartridges contain two different chemicals. When these chemicals come onto contact with each other, a reaction occurs resulting in highly conductive traces formed from silver nanoparticles.
In a way, this is similar in concept to printing with conductive ink, but the idea of combining two different chemicals provides some nuances. As an aside, the idea of using conductive inks is a lot older than many people suppose. In fact, as I wrote in my book Bebop to the Boolean Boogie:
The great American inventor Thomas Alva Edison had some ideas about connecting electronic circuits together. In a note to Frank Sprague, founder of Sprague Electric, Edison outlined several concepts for printing additive traces on an insulating base. He even talked about the possibility of using conductive inks (it was many decades before this technology -- which is introduced later in this chapter -- came to fruition).
But we digress... I don't know about you, but my head is buzzing with all of the things I could create if I had one of these little scamps sitting on my desk.
Close up of a surface mount circuit printed directly onto paper.
To the best of my knowledge, this Kickstarter project has been running for only one day as I pen these words, but they've already met their goal. To be honest, I think they set their goal of $30,000 way too low -- I would have targeted ten times that amount because it seems to me that there is a huge demand for this sort of thing. On the other hand, there are still 29 days to go, and the news is only just starting to spread, so (if I were a betting man) I would be prepared to be that they actually blow past ten times their original goal.
I'm so happy to see young folks come up with something like this. Two of the inventors -- Ariel Briner and Isabella Stephens -- are still students, while their colleague -- John Scott -- recently earned his Bachelor's degree. You can discover a lot more about the E1 Desktop PCB Printer and its inventors in this column, which was authored by Janine Love over on EDN's PCB Design Center.
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting